Charles Hodge; Edward N. Gross, ed. Systematic Theology. Abridged ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House 1992. (Presbyterian)
Hodge’s Systematic Theology was published as a result of his career as a noted Princeton theologian and reflects a life of academic and personal polemics that was addressed at upholding the Reformed faith, more Francois Turretin than John Calvin, and erecting a systematic defense of that faith against the theological alternatives offered by Charles Finney, the New Haven theologians and the Mercersburg theologians, and refuting the growth of evolutionistic thought proposed by Charles Darwin. The Princeton theology of Hodge emphasized a pre-Kantian rationalistic methodology and Biblical inerrancy. One of the major criticisms of his work is his acceptance of the philosophical inductivism of his age. Systematic Theology represents the condensed version of the magnum opus of Hodge’s work and writings, which was invaluable for the solid foundation of exegetics upon which it was written. While this updated version is much more readable for today’s students, due to the deletion of the Latin and obsolete portions, its weakness lies in the failure of the editor to include some of the valuable exegetical work that made the first version indispensable. Although it has been abridged, this work contains a deep analysis of doctrine and offers a fair consideration of the alternatives (Liberal, Catholic, Orthodox). The essentials of theology are clearly explained from Hodge’s Method of Theology; Theology Proper; to all the essential doctrines of the Christian Faith: Soteriology, Christology, Ecclesiology, Pneumatology, and the Trinity, etc. This theology text has tremendous benefit to all who wish to further their study of Reformed Evangelical Theology, and includes incisive study questions to help develop a fuller grasp of Hodge’s exegetical approach to systematic theology. It should be noted that Hodge like most of the “Old-Princetonians” wrote from a post millennial view that was popular among American Evangelical Reformed theologians.
Miley, John. Systematic Theology. Peabody, MA : Hendrickson, 1989. (Methodist)
Miley systematically builds his theology upon the foundation of John Wesley while endeavoring to update it for the modern world. He begins his work by solidly establishing theism and the existence of God, from which he goes on to outline the attributes of God, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the incarnation. He also gives ample space to an exploration of theological anthropology, Christology and Soteriology, and addresses much of his work toward clarifying what he perceived to be an incorrect understanding of the atonement, justification, and free will in relation to salvation. This work has been one of the key texts in Methodist thought due to its deep theological reflection and clear presentation of thought. Miley’s work is both theological and apologetical, and strongly defends the Arminian position. One of the key features of Miley’s work is his defense of theism against philosophical and scientific criticism and the affirmation of Christian revelation. The long appendices on topics such as biblical inspiration and authority, angels, and the Arminian treatment of the doctrine of original sin are excellent resources for understanding Methodist theology. There is a marked contrast between his theology and Reformed Theology as Miley offers a cheap denial of depravity and Federal Headship. He also relies heavily on Hugo Grotius and further develops a strong moral government theology. Miley’s moral government theology views Christ’s atonement negatively by asserting that their was no necessity that sin be punished; that Christ’s death was not the necessary means of human redemption; and that Christ’s righteousness and his death are not imputed to the believer. Miley’s work has a well thought out approach to theology, but it is the synergistic view of salvation and the symbolic view of atonement that make it dangerous, but essential for understanding how the church has developed over the last century.
Strong, Augustus H., Systematic Theology: A Compendium and Commonplace-Book, Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907. (Baptist)
As the most notable of Baptist theologians from the 19th and 20th centuries, Strong’s Systematic Theology is considered a must read for any serious student of theology if for no other reason than so many other theologians referenced his work and in many cases without having read Strong, the student will not be able to understand others writings. Although Strong was heavily influenced by the orthodox European Lutherans, and was accepting of the positive uses of higher criticism in his work, Strong’s Systematic Theology is written from an orthodox reformed Baptist perspective. Interestingly, it was this engagement of contemporary intellectual developments within his culture that has led many to criticize him as sliding toward liberality. Strong brings an interesting combinations of views to his work: he held to a moderate Calvinistic “sublapsarian” view of election; believed that the inerrancy of Scripture was indefensible; held to theistic evolution, which finally caused him to capitulate to the theory of evolution; held to the position of Postmillenialist Traducianism like many of the Lutherans; and taught an interesting eschatological synergism between Postmillenialism and Premillenialism. Strong’s approach to Scripture was both thoughtful and reverential and he taught that there are many proofs of divine inspiration of Scripture, but he favored the proof of what the Holy Spirit does in super-intending the sincere reading of God’s Word so that the believer is able to see the “whole of Scripture.” Strong also boldly declares that God is sovereign over all events, which ultimately serve His purpose and are for His glory, even as relates to the reprobate on the way to their own destruction. Strong, however, carefully balances God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in such a way so as to avoid blind determinism. Strong’s is also to be noted for his teaching which drew deeply on his reformed theology that the actual effects of election secure union with Christ prior to justification and regeneration in the ordo solutis.
Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991. (Lutheran)
Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology has a primary theme of truth, and he argues that neither Biblical axioms nor existential leaps of faith are able to prove the truth of Christianity. Pannenberg believed that for any theological discourse about God to be successful, one has to establish a relationship to metaphysical reflection if the truth is to be validated. This leads Pannenberg to refer to the Biblical narratives not as “stories” but rather as actual history, which puts his work against much of the anti-realism that is proposed by contemporary post-modernists. Pannenberg’s work rests on the historicity of God’s self-revelation and the church’s historical proclamation. Systematic Theology has all of its subject matter as the unfolding of the Christian idea about God. Pannenberg’s work represents an eschatological realism that is founded on the existence of absolute truth, which offers a dynamic sense of the Kingdom of God, since he says that history can only be properly understood from its end point. Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology represents a dynamic equilibrium between confessional Lutheran theology and a contemporary methodology. Although philosophy provides a metaphysical basis from which Pannenberg establishes the revelation of God, it is his commitment to orthodox Lutheran theology that allows him to systematically establish the credibility of the Christian faith through the canons of probable reasoning. This paradigm of constructing a systematic theology is brilliant by presenting an authentically Christian worldview that is intellectually plausible. The weakness of his Systematic Theology is Pannenberg’s lack of outside perspective of other theologies, notably a failure to engage the post-modern philosophers and theologians of the day. The most disappointing facet of his work, is Pannenberg’s outright dismissal of the virgin birth, which he approaches as if it has already been decided that it was a legend.
Dabney, R. L. Systematic Theology. St. Louis: Presbyterian Publishing Company of St. Louis, 1878. Reprint; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1985. (Presbyterian)
Dabney’s Systematic Theology is valuable from a historical and a theological perspective. Theologically, Dabney, represents the Reformed position and the standard line of thinking among 19th Century conservative American theologians. Historically, he served as chief of staff for General Stonewall Jackson during the American Civil War. Dabney rejects the extreme claims of natural theology popular during his day even while understanding its limited value. Systematic Theology, while dry reading, stands alone among many peer theological treatises by its clear, succinct and pointed exposition of theology, which can make for a difficult read. Dabney’s work is well versed in the Reformed tradition due to the heavy influence of Turretin’s Institutes of Elentic Theology, which Dabney was reported to be able to outline in Latin. Dabney’s work excels in his writing on the atonement and justification. His defense of the propitiatory view of atonement and the rejection of the Socinian theology rooted in skepticism makes this work invaluable. Dabney’s work stands alone in his unique and thorough exposition of the Ten Commandments as a road map to sanctification and his treatment of the Union with Christ exceeds many more modern works. Another value to Dabney’s approach is that he proposed that no text of Systematic Theology could be considered timeless, because each student of Theology is required to apply God’s truth to his own situation, which Dabney did to the fullest. Dabney’s work is not considered politically correct, as he has been charged with racism and pro-slavery. Dabney’s opening sections on knowledge and method are a slow read, but unlike other theologians, he warns against extreme focus on these areas. Doctrinally, Dabney’s work is solidly reformed with the possible exception of his treatment on the Lord’s Supper, and his views on the covenant of grace which seem a bit dated.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. (Reformed)
Grudem’s Systematic Theology is probably one of the widest read books on theology in contemporary evangelicalism today. Grudem’s work, while not watering down the meat of theology, presents the historical Reformed tradition on main issues of theology, but in an accessible manner which is one of this books major strengths. Grudem presents his position on issues that are much debated in the Church, but he presents them clearly, with ample Scriptural references, while displaying a unique objectivity by listing helpful cross references to other major theological positions. Grudem’s work is unique among works in this vein in that he minimizes technical terminology, making the work an easy read for the lay theologian, and includes hymns, questions and personal application which tackle some major contemporary issues. This provides an interesting teaching component that blends the scholarly with the devotional. This allows Grudem’s material to be used in teaching, preaching and Bible studies. Grudem deserves kudos for the accessibility of his work; his high view of Scripture; his ample use of Scriptural support for all stated positions; useful listing of other major theological positions; and the broad spectrum of bibliographical information provided for further reading. Although spending much of his free time discussing theology with colleagues at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School has honed Grudem’s understanding of systematic theology and his ability to clearly present it, there seems to be too much time allotted to discussing minor disagreements he has with colleagues in this work. Grudem has rightly received some criticism for his abundant attention to spiritual gifts while ignoring historical theology and both general and specific revelation. His critiques of Clark Pinnock and his Arminian friends, his clear presentation of the ordo salutis, and his addressing of gender issues make this a must read, but beware of Grudem’s heavy emphasis on charismatic theology in several chapters.
Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology. Trans. by George Musgrave Giger. Ed. by James T. Dennison. 3 vols. Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992. (Reformed)
Turretin’s work is considered by many to be one of the fullest expressions of Calvinistic theology that has ever been printed. Turretin was a noted theology professor at the Academy in Geneva for over thirty years and this work has been widely used as theological textbook for Presbyterians in America due to the considerable influence it had upon Charles Hodge at Princeton. Turretin’s work did an admirable job in addressing the critical issues of his day by setting forth a systematic theology that countered the Socinian/Remonstrants whom Turretin believed had a singular purpose of minimizing the doctrines of the Trinity and incarnation which would make it easier for the promiscuous to be saved. Turretin wrote this to be polemic in nature by exposing errors and it excels in its questions and use of Scripture to provide rebuttals to the major assault on Reformed theology by Romish/Socinian proponents. While Turretin established biblical truth and opened many debates, one of the most overlooked values of this work was the tracing of opposing thoughts back to their origins. Because of the work done in tracing back the opposing thoughts to their origins, Turretin provides a unique understanding of the historical development of theology. Because of the depth and precision of its theological treatises and biblical expositions, and the polemic nature of this work, it can be an overwhelming read for a lay theologian, but was seen as foundational in Turretin’s day and was used as a catechism. The sheer depth of Turretin’s work puts it on a shelf, albeit a high shelf, above both Calvin and Luther, both of whom provided the foundation for which his work was built.
Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988-92. (Charismatic/Pentecostal)
Renewal Theology was written to address all the basic doctrines of the Christian faith but especially for those interested or involved in Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal. Williams states that this book is an expression of theological revitalization and was written because of the “God is dead” language that was abroad in the land. Williams takes a pneumatological perspective addressing many inadequately-treated aspects of theology from a distinctly Charismatic standpoint, and addresses many issues such as the Charismatic phenomena in the early church and the marginalization of the Spirit in the later church; the presence and work of the Spirit in creation and history, the filioque controversy and its implications from both a ecumenical and practical perspective; and ties it altogether with the Reformation’s emphasis on the unity of the Word and Spirit. His foray into the historical and theological roots of the modern Pentecostal movement and the current debate between “cessationists” and “non-cessationists” is enlightening and leads Williams to his theological proposal to recover the presence and power of the Spirit in life of the modern church, and to integrate pneumatology more closely with Trinitarian doctrine. Although there are some Reformed theologians, like Grudem and Packer, who are sympathetic to and in agreement with many of Williams points, emphasis on baptism of the Spirit and speaking in tongues divide his work from theReformed school of theology and place him solidly in the Charismatic camp, with a nod to the traditional creeds and tenets of orthodox Christianity.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Reprint edition, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939. (Reformed)
Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, the magnum opus of his life’s work, represents his loyalty to the well-defined lines of the Reformed Faith, and his concise style and his up-to-date treatment, have made this work one of the most important compendiums of Reformed theology that is currently available. He began his long career as professor at Calvin Seminary and after two pastorates, ended his career as President of the Seminary for the last 13 years. His tenure at the Seminary spanned 38 years during which he devoted his talents and immense stores of knowledge to the training of men for the ministry. Berkhof’s Systematic Theology is considered by many to be the most useful one-volume systematic theology available from the Reformed perspective, although it is a very demanding read. Berkhof’s brilliance as a systematic theologian lay, not in his ability, nor in his speculations or originality, but in the organization and explanation of theological concepts. Following in the tradition Calvin, Bavinck and Kuyper, Berkhof writes in a classical style starting with the Doctrines of God and moving through Man in Relation to God, the Person and Work of Christ, the Application of the Work of Redemption, the Church and the Means of Grace, and finally concluding with the Last Things. His treatment of the Trinity and especially propitiation is done well, and his writing on the Atonement is probably one of the best among Reformed writers. Berkhof’s approach to soteriology is decidedly Calvinistic, and his explanation and application of the “doctrines of grace” are thorough. Although his coverage of the Doctrine of God is extensive, it does not give much coverage to the Attributes of God. Berkhof is clear and loyal to his Reformed position but lacking in coverage of opposing views, and although his work is completely outlined and indexed, including a thorough bibliography and review questions, his defense of his positions is sometimes very weak. This is a key book for anyone studying Systematic Theology.
Boice, James Montgomery. Foundations of the Christian Faith. Revised one-voume edition. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1986. (Presbyterian)
Boice was a well known Reformed theologian and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. His Foundations of the Christian Faith is a revised edition of a formerly four-volume work that, while remaining true to the original, sacrifices very little in its practicality and thoroughness. Boice served as the Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, and carried his devotion to Biblical inerrancy, inspiration, and authority into this work, even making it the preliminary chapter. The structure of Foundations loosely follows Calvin’s Institutes, and is really four books in one with each section corresponding to one of the four original books Boice wrote. Boice’s structure reinforces his prolegomena, namely that it is impossible for man to understand himself, his condition or the Church without have a solid foundation in understanding the Sovereign God portrayed in the Scriptures. The book starts off with a clear and accurate presentation of God’s sovereignty before moving onto God’s relation to fallen man. Boice’s description of original sin, total depravity, and total inability are true to the Reformed position and is one of the clearest and kindest available today. It is this foundation that allows Boice to present the Gospel clearly as man’s greatest need: that of a Savior, and why and how only Jesus fulfills that role. In the third section of this work, Boice details the work of the Holy Spirit in awakening the elect, regenerating them, and immersing them in the work of Christ. The final section of the work focuses on the Church and how God works through the Church to accomplish His will. It is here that his years as a pastor demonstrate his love of God’s people and his desire to see the Church fulfill her role. Boice’s sensitivity to the issues of his day and his gentleness in manner and presentation allow him to give different positions for these issues and he candidly offers more than just his opinion, which makes this a must read for every Christian.
by Jeff Keeney